Lawsuit accuses farmers of abusing Thai workers

EEOC officials file lawsuit against six Hawaii farms today. Photo by Jim Mendoza
EEOC officials file lawsuit against six Hawaii farms today. Photo by Jim Mendoza

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A lawsuit filed Wednesday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges that more than 200 workers from Thailand were trafficked into Hawaii and Washington state to work on farms.

The civil action accuses Global Horizons Inc., a California based farm labor contractor, and owner Mordechai Orian of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation against the workers who were sent to six Hawaii farms where they were subjected to abuses.

"The claimants were placed in deplorable housing conditions, some of which were uninhabitable. Some were left without any water. Some were left without sufficient food," EEOC attorney Michael Farrell said.

The suit names Captain Cook Coffee Company, Del Monte Fresh Produce, Kauai Coffee Company, Kelena Farms, MacFarms of Hawaii and Maui Pineapple Company.

The alleged abuses happened between 2003 and 2007.

"Upon arriving to the U.S. their passports were confiscated and they were threatened with deportation if they complained," Farrell said.

"It is antithetical of the American way. Shame on these businesses for allowing that to happen just for the sake of their bottom line," said Kathryn Xian of Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery.

Orian's Hawaii attorney Michael Green reacted by saying witnesses are being given green cards to say they were living in squalor.

"This is the power and money of the federal government that's out of control," he said.

Alexander & Baldwin responded on behalf of Kauai Coffee Company, calling the lawsuit sensationalized and saying its own investigation showed a positive working relationship with Thai workers.

Farrell said the Thai workers were forced to pay up to $25,000 in fees annually and weren't paid what they were promised.

"We also allege that the employers retaliated against several of the workers who complained about the unlawful conditions and unlawful treatment," Farrell said.

EEOC is seeking damages from $50,000 to $300,000 per defendant.

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